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BT Retail ran targeted advertising pilot back in 2006
Wednesday 02 April 2008 08:45:24 by Andrew Ferguson

The recent coverage on Phorm and its targeted advertising system has revealed that 121Media who has since become Phorm were involved in an 18,000 customer trial with BT Retail according to an exclusive on The Register. The trial which took place without the customers knowledge between 23rd September and 6th October 2006.

It would appear the trial created profiles for the 18,000 customers and then through advertising space purchased on various sites, the profiles were used to present an advert most likely to get a positive response from the consumer.

The technology used in this 2006 trial was more primitive than that which Phorm currently use since it required the insertion of Javascript into every web page a user visited. Fast forward to 2008 and we are due another trial from BT, but this time with customers given the option to opt-in and the advertising system being pushed as an enhancement to online security through the phishing protection warning system it provides.

If the information about the 2006 trial is correct it raises many questions of what a broadband provider can do and cannot do with customers data passing through them. Assurances of no personally identifiable data being kept by the Phorm system may look slightly more hollow to sceptics, and looking at the bigger picture one wonders what providers will do for the promise of a few million pounds.


Posted by paulbeattie87 over 9 years ago
It's a disgrace, it really is.
Posted by c_j_ over 9 years ago
For those who may not be following the full detail: Phorm's current Chief Technology Officer joined Phorm in January 2007. Prior to that, he was Chief Technology man at (wait for it) BT Retail, while the 121/Phorm trials were going on without informed consent (and indeed whilst they were being denied).

Ethics? Near London, innit.
Posted by Aqualung over 9 years ago
This is criminal and people should be dragged through the courts for this.If it was above board they would have told people about it upfront rather than being underhand .Am i correct in thinking a change in terms and conditions by BT would nullify peoples existing contracts and allow them to leave early from long term contracts as they would be required to sign up to a new deal ???
Posted by c_j_ over 9 years ago
"change in terms and conditions ... nullify contracts"

Probably but IANAL. Some OFT guidance for Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts is at [1]. See 3.46 "Variation of Contract": "Terms are open to strong objection if they allow (supplier) to change the contract without valid reason". IE change Ts+Cs to consumers detriment, contract becomes unenforceable. Check with Trading Standards or lawyer. Threaten court, they'll likely let folk out who protest, this avoids setting a legal precedent in court.

Posted by carrot63 over 9 years ago
The various bits of government are keeping a very low profile on all of this.
Posted by jelv over 9 years ago
The latest BT Q&A says that Webwise won't work with the Safari browser. I wonder how much that will increase Safari usage?
Posted by carrot63 over 9 years ago
Webwise may not work in Safari, but as it stands with BT's opt-out it won't stop browsing details being collected. So you get all of the disadvantages without even the (questionable) advantage.
Posted by JDPower over 9 years ago
The momentum is slowly turning against the whole Phorm situation it seems.

This story even made it onto BBC breakfast news this morning as BT "admitting" monitoring 18000 users data without consent, and that it was to be investigated by the Informations Commissioner
Posted by JDPower over 9 years ago
Hmmm, they just had two studio guests on BBC news discussing this and they were pretty clueless, pretty much stating it's no more than Google or any site that uses cookies do and is easily avoided by clearing cookies which certaunly isn't the case with the Phorm system.
Posted by c_j_ over 9 years ago
It's not like cookies. It's like a Royal Mail subcontractor opening and reading your post, and storing the "anonymous" information they are reading to deliver "better targeted" direct mail adverts (for which they are taking money), while at the same they are time telling you the mail-opening "service" improves your privacy.

Oh, and they trialed the service without telling you, and mail interception was illegal then and now, but they've done nothing illegal.

And Royal Mail's CTO left to work as CTO at LetterOpeners'R'Us.

All perfectly legit in the Alice in Wonderland world of big business.
Posted by normsland over 9 years ago
Hey JDPower, have to agree with you on that. The BBC had a clueless pair of monkeys on the TV this morning. From my understanding of the Phorm system and BT implementation it uses cookies to opt you out. Therefore clearing your cookies would opt you back in! Fools!
Posted by john (Favicon staff member) over 9 years ago
Was on channel 4 news at noon / 7 o'clock news too. They had Stephen on there saying he would be contacting the police to get answers.

Krishnan interviewed a BT spokesman. He mainly accused them of spying and breaking the DPA. BT claimed it wasn't illegal- they didn't go into a mass of detail on the technicalities etc.
Posted by c_j_ over 9 years ago
C4 have some coverage on their website including a bit of an article and also a video of the item. Unfortunately the video is DRM-infested ie requires WinXP, IE6, WMP10, etc so I haven't yet been able to watch it.

Allegedly BBC R4 "iPM" will have some coverage too.

Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
Its not DRM protected from what i can see (played in media player classic for me which DRM stuff doesnt normally.

You can get the FULL REPORT in non-DRM WMV file format FOR NOW DIRECT from here...

Pasting into browser will still mean it streams to WMP, paste that into a download manager and you will download the full WMV file which is as near as makes no difference 36Mb :)
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
^^^ Eeek sorry about that link it seems to have made the news story page go all skew-iff, atleast at my end.
Posted by c_j_ over 9 years ago
Thanks for that link, works (albeit stupidly slow video) with Win2K and DRM-free (I think) WMP7 (and/or MPC 6.4.9). C4 don't give the BT lady an easy time, but don't go too hard either.

Dunno why C4 website needs to say you need XP, IE6 and WMP10 etc if the video isn't actually DRM-infested. Maybe it keeps their life simple... doesn't help the DRM-free punter.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
I think the spec they state on the C4 site is just something they use globally on all there websites (example 4OD would indeed be DRM), so rather than write different specs on eachsite they have just generalised it LOL If you whack the link into a download manager c_j_ and use multi connections, providing your own net connection has some guts you can download it pretty quick :)They should post a link to the wmv rather than the .asx stream, it would mean as the news items are NOT DRM infested people with linux, macs etc could play back the file in a decent media playing app
Posted by Kaufhof over 9 years ago
I disapprove of this as much as anyone but is there a Legal Eagle who could tell us whether it is a crime or not? My own guess is that interfering with internet traffic is not criminal but that a case against that view can be argued. I may be wrong though - and hope I am.
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